2015 saw a number of significant employment law developments, both in legislation and case law. In this update we take a look back at the main changes this year.
Shared Parental Leave (SPL)
Several changes that took place this year related to family-friendly rights. Perhaps the most significant development was the introduction of SPL in April, which replaced the additional paternity leave regime and allows the mother and her partner to share the majority of the mother’s maternity leave and pay.
Since its introduction, the Government has announced that it is planning to extend SPL to include grandparents by 2018. We will provide further updates on this point as it develops.
Parents’ entitlements to unpaid parental leave (not to be confused with Shared Parental Leave) were enhanced in April. The legislation now allows 18 weeks’ unpaid leave to be taken by qualifying employees before a child’s 18th birthday in all cases, and not just where the child is disabled (as was the case previously).
April also saw changes in adoption legislation, with the removal of the requirement to have 26 weeks’ service before being entitled to adoption leave, an increase in statutory adoption pay and the introduction of paid leave for adoption appointments (in certain circumstances).
Legislation banning exclusivity clauses, which prevented a worker under a zero-hours contract from working anywhere else, was passed in May. The regulations come into effect on 11 January 2016.
This ban applies not only if there is a term which seeks to prohibit the employee/worker from working elsewhere but also where there is a term which seeks to prohibit the employee/worker from doing so without the employer's consent.
HR’s role in disciplinary proceedings
A case before the Employment Appeal Tribunal saw a dismissal deemed unfair because the dismissing employer’s HR department had influenced the disciplining manager’s findings, leading to a more severe sanction than might have been anticipated on the basis of the initial draft findings.
A first draft of the manager’s report contained a number of favourable findings, but it became clear that after discussing the issue with HR the report became more critical of the employee.
This case highlighted that an HR team can be seen to give advice on process and law, but the decision following a disciplinary hearing should be made by the disciplining manager only.
The trade union Unison had its third appeal for a judicial review of the tribunal fees regime rejected by the Court of Appeal, which stated that there was insufficient evidence of claimants’ inability to afford the fees.
Unison will now seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Perhaps one of the main discussion points this year was in relation to holiday pay, particularly in relation to how it should be calculated with reference to overtime and commission.
There has been both UK and European case law on the issue. In a nutshell, it has been determined that employees should not be disadvantaged by taking a holiday, and therefore should receive their normal pay, including any element related to bonus and/or commission, as if they were at work, for that period.
On a related note, from 1 July this year a cap was placed on the period for which a claim for a series of unauthorised deductions from wages (which would be the relevant claim for unpaid holiday pay) can go back. Claims made after 1 July 2015 can now only go back for a maximum of two years, which gave some relief to employers who may have faced expensive claims following the case law decisions in relation to holiday pay.
Travel time as working time
Another case law development from Europe now means that, for workers with no fixed place of work, the time spent travelling from home to the first appointment and from the last appointment to home can now be considered working time.
It is important to note that, while travel time as described above has implications in relation to working hours, the decision does not automatically give an employee the right to be paid for travelling time.
Check our top stories 2015 - here